Shout! Factory has done a shrewd thing with its initial release of episodes of The Dick Cavett Show: build individual collections around famous musicians who appeared on the show. The seven DVDs in these three sets contain a total of 15 complete shows and feature a veritable who's-who of pop-music icons: Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, David Bowie, Stevie Wonder, George Harrison, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Ray Charles and John Lennon. The Dick Cavett Show ran in fits and starts for six years, ending for good in 1975. During the show's run, the host's sharp wit and youthful coolness made it the TV home of rock stars and other figures of contemporary renown.
As one would expect, all of the shows feature musical numbers, some of which are historic. Who wouldn't want to see Janis Joplin belt out "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)" or "To Love Somebody"? In an interesting juxtaposition, on the same show that a 20-year-old Stevie Wonder sings "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," Tex Ritter performs the theme song to High Noon. But it is the conversation among Cavett, the musicians, and the show's other guests that makes these collections worth your holiday dollars. Cavett is witty and urbane, slightly smart-alecky and self-deprecating, which puts his guests at ease. Those used to the anything-for-a-laugh chatter on today's talk shows will find the straightforward demeanor of Cavett's guests refreshing for the clearer picture it gives of them as people.
The best of these three collections is Rock Icons because of its rich diversity, but the John Lennon and Ray Charles collections seem more important because both men are no longer with us. In particular, Lennon reminisces on the "pressure" of being a Beatle, citing A Hard Day's Night as a comic-strip version of life as one of the Fab Four. He also gives a candid view of his life shortly after the Beatles' breakup, an interesting period in the history of pop music.
Today's talk shows are frenetic, gossipy affairs that endlessly parade celebrities with movies or books to hawk. The Dick Cavett Show is leisurely by comparison, and more compelling as well.
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